Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Scripture and Authority

Last week I finished J.I. Packer's 1996 book called Truth and Power: The Place of Scripture in the Christian Life. It is such a good resource, I’m going to devote a few posts to the content.

Chapter 1 in the book is called God’s Freedom Trail and covers the Christian belief that the Bible is authoritative. Early in the chapter, Dr. Packer notes that holding this view can be difficult for those who have had negative experiences with people who have misused their authority. Packer explains that this can “leave a bad taste and prompt skepticism about authority in all its forms.” Yet the Bible being authoritative, Dr. Packer argues “is not necessarily authoritarian." Dr. Packer explains,

“When Christians affirm the authority of the Bible, meaning that biblical teaching reveals God’s will and is the instrument his rule over our lives, part of what they are claiming is that Scripture sets before us the factual and moral nature of things.” (pg. 15)

He explains that Christians do not hold this view for some arbitrary or random reason, but rather it is rooted in our view of God’s character:

“When historic Christianity receives the Bible as an absolute authority for creed and conduct, it does so on the basis that since God is a God of truth and righteousness, the instruction that he lays before us in writing must have the same qualities.” (pg. 14)

Dr. Packer also explains that this belief in the Bible's authority is also rooted in our belief in Christ - who we believe has been given all authority in heaven and earth. Jesus Christ, we believe, is "God incarnate, the risen, reigning Son of God to whom all authority has been given."

Thus, he explains that the only authority-principle which imparts the blessings of God that brings "satisfaction and salvation", "is the personal divine authority of ‘the man Christ Jesus’ (I Tim. 2:5), mediated by the Holy Spirit in and through the Bible.” (pg. 25).

Dr. Packer next addresses the issue of human freedom, explaining that Christ is both the source and the model for freedom. According to Dr. Packer, because of Christ, Christians can experience "real" freedom. He explains that, “real freedom is freedom from sin, which brings with it a place in God’s family, which is the place of permanent external security. Jesus tells them that only those whom he himself has freed…are free in this full sense. If you read the whole passage (John 8:31-36) you will see this at once.” (pg. 24)

This freedom Dr. Packer explains comes not from ourselves, but from God, “We cannot have the freedom we want until we receive it on God’s terms, that is, by giving up our rebellious independence and letting God be God to us. Real freedom is only ever found under authority – God’s authority in Christ, authority which reaches us via God’s written word.” (pg. 26)

His other point in this first section of his book is that Scripture is unique. It is not merely a book that bears a textual witness to God and His works, but it is also an instrument that God will use, to help us discern His will. Thus Scripture, “is not just a witness to Christ’s universal reign but is actually the instrument of it so far as humankind are concerned.” (p. 25)

"How is this possible?" You might wonder. "How can a book be an instrument of God?" It is possible, as Dr. Packer explains, through the work of the Holy Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit who, “opens and applies Scripture to our hearts that we discern Christ’s will and are enabled to do it.”

....a helpful perspective on the authority of Scripture and its importance in a Christian's life.


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